Helen Hunt won laughs, and a lot of fans, during the '90s sparring with TV husband Paul Reiser in "Mad About You." In her new movie, her sparring partner is nothing less than the Pacific Ocean ... which was where we caught up with her for this Sunday Profile:
On a golden morning in Venice Beach, California, recently, the waves were playing host to a traffic jam. Surfers of all ages positioned themselves in the lineup, while actress (and surfer herself) Helen Hunt looked on from the beach.
"Oh my God, that's a huge wave! That makes me want to throw up!" she said, "In case this piece is selling me as some sort of jock. That makes me want to throw up!"
"So you like smaller waves, more ankle biters?" asked Cowan.
"Yes. I want a wetsuit that says, 'I just don't want any trouble,'" she laughed.
The "Mad About You" star got plenty of trouble during the making of her latest movie. It's called "Ride," although for a good part of the movie Hunt is doing more falling than riding.
So how much of it was her actually surfing? "I think it's fair to say every time I'm surfing in the movie it's me," said Hunt. "When I wipe out in the movie, it's me. When I wipe out so badly that you think she must be dead, that's a brilliant stuntwoman who stepped in and helped me out."
The story begins in New York City, where Hunt plays a harried magazine editor. But when she learns her son has dropped out of college to surf and "find himself," the disapproving mom is on the first plane West.
Jackie (Helen Hunt): "You're father's just fine with this?"
Angelo (Brenton Thwaites): "You don't want to know."
Jackie: "What did he say?"
Angelo: "'Just be happy.'"
Jackie: "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."
Hunt accepted her character's description as cranky: "Well, cranky about the West Coast in general, that we're all sort of un-read, uncultured people who like to do nothing.."
Jackie softens a bit, thanks in part to her surf instructor, played by Luke Wilson.
If she seems at home in this part, she is -- Hunt wrote and directed the whole thing.
"Piece by piece, you get to make this little painting," she told Cowan. "It's a pretty fun job, especially for a multi-tasking, controlling person like me, it's a really good job!"